Who would you tell?

When you’re anxious about not being good enough, or you have a goal you don’t dare to share, or you’re unhappy with your job and want to explore options…

Who would you tell? 

At work, the last person I would talk to about my weaknesses would be my boss or Human Resources. A colleague once described our management team as “a wolf pack.” Given the focus on performance ratings and curves, any vulnerability made it easier for you to be sacrificed.

Telling your partner can also be challenging. How do you say that the job your family depends on isn’t fulfilling? Or that you may not be the person they expected you to be?

One place where you can share such things is a WOL Circle. A group in India, for example, just completed their 12 weeks and described the “sharing of experiences, dreams, and aspirations without fear or inhibition.” One person said, “I soon realized it was my ‘safe space.’”

That feeling of psychological safety made it possible for them to share what was difficult to share elsewhere. and know they had been heard. Better still, week by week they took actions that helped them make progress and build their confidence. More than just support, the Circle offered empowerment.

It’s extremely rare to have a safe space at work, or anywhere for that matter. Where’s yours?

Source: http://sailornattie.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lightingfour.jpg

Source: http://sailornattie.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/lightingfour.jpg

Announcing WOL Enterprise Solutions

If you want to scale an employee-led movement, you shouldn’t “leave it alone” and hope for the best. Instead, you should leverage your company’s resources so you can reach more people and help change the culture.

Whether you’re in the early days of spreading WOL inside your organization or you’re looking to expand the grassroots movement you created, there are now products and services that can help you.  

The WOL Roadmap

A pattern has emerged from the many different companies spreading WOL and it generally has four phases, identified by the approximate number of people in Circles and by common milestones we see. Although the initial Pilot phase can be started by anyone in the company using free PDFs, moving to the later phases is much more likely with professional materials and support. 

3 Ways to Ensure Success

Based on our experience with companies who’ve successfully used WOL in many locations and departments, there are three things that make Circles more effective and easier to spread.

1. Customized Materials

The Video Guides & Journals announced last week make the Circle experience more convenient and professional. Increasingly, employees expect e-learning to be available via video and mobile, and the Circle Journal makes it possible to capture progress in one place. 

Customizing the Journal makes it easier to see how WOL relates to your company specifically. By including your brand and welcome message, you let employees know WOL is officially supported. Including your own examples each week shows them how to practice at work using the company’s technology.

2. Professional Support

The volunteers who support the Pilot phase need assistance as WOL spreads. Professional support, offered by me and a growing network of certified WOL Coaches, helps grow the movement while ensuring good results for Circle members and program owners. WOL Mentor Training enables you to develop your own internal capability across locations & divisions.

3. Additional Programs

In the later phases, going beyond the basic WOL Circle method allows you to reach a wider range of employees in different kinds of work environments. Here are several WOL programs that are available now or are under development:

  • WOL for Leaders pairs executives with reverse mentors

  • WOL for Managers & On-boarding are add-ons for these specific groups

  • WOL: Self-Care improves employee wellness

  • WOL: Purpose reduces busy-ness & information overload

  • WOL for Operational Employees enables front-line workers to experience the benefits of WOL

Enterprise Solutions: Basic, Advanced, Partner

As your movement succeeds, three annual subscription packages - Basic, Advanced, and Partner - offer you a range of options and support. For more about the products and services in each package, including pricing, contact me at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com.

By taking your WOL efforts to the next level, you can help thousands of colleagues feel more confident, develop new skills, and realize more of their potential. We want to help you make the difference you aspire to make.

WOL Circle Video Guides & Journal now for sale

Starting today, you can buy the new WOL Circle Video Guides + Journal for an introductory price of €49 (about $55, including shipping and tax).

I’m excited to make this package available. The hundreds of people who have tested it said the combination of the videos and journal is “so much more personal & engaging” and “would definitely recommend it to others.” 

Click on the image to view the Introduction & purchase the Video+Journal package

Click on the image to view the Introduction & purchase the Video+Journal package

Together the Videos + Journal make for a much better Circle experience. You can watch or listen to the videos at home, on your commute, or during your meetings. And the journal allows you to do the exercises and capture all your progress in one convenient place.

Here’s what’s included for €49:

13 Video Guides

  • All the instructions, stories & tips you need for a great WOL Circle

  • Watch or listen on your mobile, laptop, or desktop

  • Over 3 hours of content

  • Access for 6 months

Circle Journal

  • 200+ pages in an easy-to-handle format

  • Instructions for all the exercises

  • Plenty of space to write

  • Bonus content

  • Includes shipping & tax

You can watch the introduction here. Then click on any of the 12 weeks to purchase the Video Guides & Circle Journal. 

Thank you for all your support and for spreading the word about WOL. This package is the first of a wide range of programs and resources I will add to the WOL Library in the coming months, both for individuals and for organizations. (More about that next week.) If you have any questions, contact me at orders@workingoutloud.com. I’ll be happy to hear from you.

I hope you enjoy a new and improved Circle experience.

We started out as strangers, now we’re friends

Our tendency to divide people into Us versus Them seems to be getting worse, in both the workplace and the world. But what if we can help people experience a better way? What if people can see how even strangers - people in different places and different circumstances - can come together in a way that provides mutual support and benefit?

This past week, Anna in Germany sent me a message about her WOL Circle. She told me her group is “between 25 and 55 years old - single, married, with and without kids, all different styles of living and different career steps.” She captured a feeling I’ve heard many times before, so I asked if I could share her note today.

I'm in week 6 of my first WOL experience - and I love it!!! My circle members are the best I could have chosen. I really appreciate them and how we are growing together. 

Our WOL circle is like magic. We started as 5 total strangers with such different backgrounds and last week we met for the first time in real life and it felt like we had been friends for years.  

Thank you so much!!!

Week after week on a video call, Anna’s Circle is experiencing a very human process of giving and receiving, discovering they have much more in common than they might have expected. Their exchanges deepen a sense of trust and relatedness between them, and they feel connected instead of divided.

Imagine if we could spread this feeling of “Us” instead of “Us and Them”? Once you learn how fulfilling it is to develop meaningful connections with four strangers, you can practice it with anyone. 

Spreading the Feeling of “Us”


“Grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it”

Though it’s often described as an African proverb, I first came across the expression via an email from Petra in Europe.

Thank you for introducing WOL to the business world. I really hope we can change the culture of our company, but I know we have to be patient. “Grass doesn't grow faster when you pull it.” :-)

Petra made me think about the grassroots movements that sometimes form within organizations. There’s something almost magical about an employee-led movement, the earnest coming together of people who share a passion and commitment for making a difference. 

Individuals participating in these movements are sometimes skeptical about management initiatives that try to accelerate what they started, “pulling the grass” as it were. Yet if your goal is to reach more people in your organization, management isn’t something to be avoid. Rather, their support is exactly what you need for your grassroots to grow, and it can come in many forms and from many different people. 

  • Support could be a Learning & Development manager putting WOL Circles in the Corporate Academy, making it easier for employees to join and making it clear that personal development can be done on “work time.”

  • It could be the right structures, such as an on-boarding, talent management, innovation, or diversity program, that gives the grassroots new fields where they can spread.

  • It could be a board member issuing a press release, communicating how this kind of development helps the company.

  • It could be managers enrolling in Circles or WOL for Leaders (a reverse mentoring program) so they experience the benefits themselves and signal to others that these kinds of “WOL behaviors” are encouraged.

Because “grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it” we ensure Circles are always optional and confidential, so management can’t dictate participation or the choice of goals in WOL Circles. But grass does grow faster - and is healthier and more sustainable - when you have the right conditions. Just as the landscapers in my local park provide nutrients, water, structures (fences), and protection (a cover in winter), it’s possible for management to provide a fertile environment conducive to growth.  

If, like Petra, you’re hoping to change your company’s culture, then part of what you must do is find managers open to change and make it easy for them to support you in some way. Doing so is key to scaling your efforts, helping more people, and making the difference you want to make.

My view as I wrote this post in the local park: Healthy grass roots!



Intimacy with a stranger in 20 seconds

Ten thousand years ago, if you were rejected by your social group you would die. To improve our collective chances of belonging and surviving, we evolved highly sophisticated ways of tracking status of group members in ways that help us cooperate and collaborate. 

Deep in our brains, we still carry this instinctual need for belonging. It may no longer be life or death, but we feel pain when we sense we’re being rejected and we feel better when we sense we’re accepted and safe.

Knowing this can change how you relate to people.

Is it safe?

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, author Dan Coyle asserts that the cultures of the world’s most successful groups “are created by a specific set of skills which tap into the power of our social brains.” The first of these skills is to “build safety,” learning how to exchange signals that build social bonds of belonging and identity. These signals, or belonging cues, communicate three things.

  1. I see you.

  2. I care about you.

  3. We have a shared future together. 

When we exchange these signals, we feel safe and accepted. When we don’t, we feel uncertain and increasingly anxious.

A fundamental human skill

The phrase “psychological safety” may seem more suitable for the laboratory than the workplace or home, but Google’s research into effective teams lists psychological safety as the first of “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google.” The belonging cues are even taught at elementary schools, using the SLANT strategy

“SLANT” is an acronym that stands for ‘Sit up, Lean forward, Ask and answers questions, Nod your head and Track the speaker.’ It is a simple technique to encourage and remind students on being attentive and active in class. 

The crux of the SLANT strategy is to enhance learning and student performance by creating a behavior incorporating the conscious use of positive body language.

Track the speaker and make eye contact. I see you. Nod your head and ask questions. I care about what you have to say. Ask and answer questions. We have a shared future together. If you think this seems silly or unnecessary, try having a conversation with your child or partner while they’re looking at their phone. How effective is that conversation? How do you feel?

Is it difficult to learn how to do this?

Recently, I heard Dan Coyle speak at a conference in Houston. He’s an insightful, intelligent, engaging presenter - and I had to give a talk after him! I related the exchanges of signals that Dan talked about to the giving and receiving that takes place as you Work Out Loud. In the workshop after my talk, I included an exercise of offering a contribution of appreciation, and a woman in the audience demonstrated how easy it can be to communicate belonging cues.

With a single sentence, she made it clear she was listening to what I had to say, was interested in it, and expected to use it in the future. Writing it took just a few seconds, and it led to a further exchange during the workshop.

But if it’s so easy, why don’t we have more successful groups and positive cultures? Because the hard part - the art of communications and good relationships - is to practice making these exchanges over and over again, reinforcing and enhancing social bonds. That’s the thing most of us struggle with. We forget to say what we feel, we avoid the risk of discomfort, we assume the other person knows.

The basis of human connection is an exchange of signals over time. What signals are you sending?

WOL Circle Guides now in Turkish!

Even the phrase “Circle Guides” in Turkish - “Çember Kılavuzu” - looks and sounds exotic to me. Seeing over 120 pages of Working Out Loud material in Turkish is a miracle!

It’s also a huge amount of work: translating thirteen guides, standardizing words and phrases, coordinating people across multiple timezones, double- and triple-checking for consistency and correctness. All of it by volunteers. Sebnem Maier, who organized the effort, also set up a LinkedIn group for “WOL Türkiye Topluluğu” and requested Turkish readers contact her with any edits or comments.

I asked Sebnem and the team what motivated them to take on such a big project, and here’s what they said. I’m grateful for all they’ve done, and inspired by why they did it. 

***

Since I have started my WOL experience in 2016, I was dreaming to have the guides in Turkish to reach people in my country who may have interest in WOL. So my dream has been fulfilled thanks to the great team who translated the guides with me voluntarily. Now, all Turkish-speaking people have the possibility to experience WOL and I am very happy about it.

Sebnem Maier – Senior manager at Robert Bosch GmbH, WOL Mentor, WOL Co-Creation Team

I felt that it was a simple yet genuine tool designed to help people to understand how to add a human touch to  their digital relations. I just wanted to have more people exposed to it and not be limited by language. We need to get closer and together. In person or on digital platforms. We need to relearn to look and see each other eye to eye, people to people, without boundaries of our limitations.

Nurhayat Ulucan – HR Manager, PPG Turkey

I observed in my Turkish Circle as a moderator that language might be a barrier for some people. For a successful rollout of the method, which is what I aim in my home country, Turkey, and for a better life as the WOL ambassador, it was necessary to have the guides in my mother language.

Rüya Demirtas – Project manager, Process improvement specialist, Bosch Turkey

It is a unique method which helps to discover and to understand your own goals by building relationships. We are happy and excited to help WOL reach more people by helping to translate the guides to Turkish.

Ebru Bakir Kandemir & Zafer Kandemir

As a psychology student, what motivated me to become a part of WOL was the enlightening experience of self-actualization, self-realization and self-confidence with the weekly Circle meetings in a friendly, understanding environment.

Zeynep Taş – Junior Student Majoring Psychology at Koç University in Turkey 

We have been searching for a sharing methodology to organize women's Circles to harness our sisterhood's knowledge and passion to share with each other. WOL will unlock this potential. Thank you John and the team! 

Melek Pulatkonak – Founder of TurkishWIN & BinYaprak  

What would you say to 400 knowledge managers?

Today, I’ll fly to Houston to take part in the APQC Knowledge Management (KM) conference. Many of the 400 attendees have been working on KM for years, some for decades. They’re already experts when it comes to the tools and processes they need. 

But something has been missing. The traditional focus on tools and taxonomies has left little room for a harder challenge: people.

Long-time KM experts like Stan Garfield and Nick Milton have written often about the need for focusing on behavior change and a cultural shift. (In one of Stan’s recent articles, the word “culture” appears 8 times.) To increase both the supply and demand of knowledge, you have to create an environment where people are intrinsically motivated to share and search for knowledge as part of their everyday work. But how?

The talk before mine will have many of the answers. It’s by Dan Coyle, author of the excellent book, The Culture Code. Here’s an excerpt from an APQC article about their interview with Dan. 

I have asked KM leaders what their main objective is for implementing KM.  And, overwhelmingly, the #1 response is to “change the culture of the organization.”  

A collaborative culture feels and works better. Dan’s formula for success focuses on

1) making the environment safe to accelerate building relationships and trust,

2) demonstrating how leaders can use vulnerability to forge reciprocity, and

3) creating a roadmap that gets people onboard for the journey ahead.

WOL is a method for implementing some of these ideas. That’s why the APQC also wrote that “Working Out Loud is KM’s most transformative trend.” WOL Circles give people a chance to do what Dan writes about: exchange knowledge, vulnerability, and more all in a psychologically safe space. And the method helps them practice over time till they develop new habits and a new mindset. As the new behaviors spread, the culture changes.

I hope to give a good talk. More importantly, though, I hope to give each of the 400 attendees something they can use, so they can finally fill in the piece that’s been missing, and kick off culture change movements of their own.

New: Version 5 of the WOL Circle Guides

She said it in such a serious, deadpan way that I knew she wasn’t kidding. “Please,” she told me, “don’t change the guides.”

That was Katharina Krentz from Bosch. She had created materials related to each of the 12 weeks, and changes would mean a lot of extra work. The translations, now in eight other languages, would also have to change. Besides, she pointed out, with more than 500 Circles at Bosch and over 5000 members in their internal WOL Group, there was no need to change anything.

“Yes, and…,” I thought. Since the last update, there have been so many useful resources I’ve wanted to add. And the new, professionally-designed materials - videos, a journal, and soon a workbook - made the old version of the Guides look like, well, like I designed them myself. 

So I tried to modify the material in a way that won’t cause undo work for people already using them, and yet will still be a significant improvement. The result is version 5 of the WOL Circle Guides.

What’s new?

The biggest change is that I added a new section to the website: workingoutloud.com/resources. I removed the lists of links in the PDFs, and created a webpage for each week that includes a wider range of resources - media, examples, more exercises, more FAQs. This is much more flexible, and makes it possible for me to regularly add new resources that the WOL community finds useful. (I especially enjoyed creating a new photo gallery in Week 12.)

The guides have also been professionally redesigned, using a new style and layout that matches the journal and the other materials I’m working on. I find the new design much cleaner and easier to read. 

The final change is to the licensing language that was on each section of the guides. Older versions used a restrictive Creative Commons license that confused some people, especially the "non-commercial" part. That has been replaced with standard copyright language that’s more precise about what companies can and can’t do. To me, it doesn't change what organizations have already been doing. My intention is just to make it clearer.

What’s next?

Today, I published the English version of the new Guides, and German will be available soon. (I’ll be sure to create German versions of the Resources pages too.) Then I’ll apply the new design to all the translations.

With the maturity of the Circle Guides comes the chance to develop new products and new practices. Here are a few I’m working on:

  • The WOL Circle Video Series & companion journal are being used in company pilots now. They’re part of a new WOL Library that includes assets that make Circles more effective and help companies spread them. (The new “What is Working Out Loud?” video will give you a feel for what the videos look like. It’s also subtitled in German and Turkish, with more languages coming soon.)

  • A beautiful new workbook is under development, and will be for sale via the website. It will be a hardcover book that includes the guides, extra content, and the chance to do the exercises and capture your progress in one place. 

  • The WOL: Self-Care pilot is coming to an end. I’m grateful to the 100 people who participated, and will incorporate what we learned into a next version of the WOL:SC guides that I’ll publish in May. 

  • WOL: Purpose, another new practice, and experiments in healthcare and manufacturing are all just beginning. I’m extremely excited about each of them.

The only reason any of this work is possible is because of you and the WOL Community. I’m grateful to all of you who’ve tried a Circle and those who’ve generously spread the word.

I hope you like the new Guides. If you’re in the middle of a Circle, you can begin using them right away. If you have a resource you think should be included in the new section on the website, please send me an email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. I’ll be glad to hear from you.

Clink on the image to see the new Getting Started section

Clink on the image to see the new Getting Started section

A letter from my future self

I’ve been meaning to write a new letter for years now, but something inside me resisted it. Perhaps I’ve been afraid of what’s ahead, or afraid that writing down what success will look like is presumptuous, something not yet earned. 

Recently, however, someone posted that this letter exercise in Week 7 was hard for them, and that gave me the nudge I needed. I thought, If I can’t do it, how can I ask others to try? So here it is. To help me write my letter, I put the timeframe further out than usual. That made it safer for me somehow.

The instructions say to write this letter for yourself, not to impress someone else. That’s what I tried to do. I share it here to offer another public example of what such a letter might look like, and also to serve as a visible reminder of what I aspire to accomplish.

April 24, 2034

Dear John,

Well, here we are: 2034. It’s a number I thought I’d only see in Science Fiction stories. (I still remember when Orwell’s 1984 was a distant future.) Now I’m 70 years old. More precisely, we are 70. Congratulations to both of us for making it this far.

A lot has happened, some of which you hoped for, and some which you didn’t dare to dream about at the time. Brace yourself, though. It wasn’t easy.

Our family is doing well. The kids are great. As you grew to be more comfortable in your own skin, that made it easier for others to be comfortable with and around you. It took much longer than we both might have hoped, but you made steady progress. The yoga and meditation helped. The move to Japan helped a lot, too. Life is simpler here. You became clearer about what’s important and why.

I remember how fragile you were when you started on your own. You were so worried all the time, about making a living, about being a good provider, about your status after having lost your job. If it wasn’t for your wife’s strength, support, and love, you never would have made it through this period. Be good to her.

The funny part is that things picked up when you stopped trying so hard to make it all work. When you focused on the contribution instead - on making things other people found genuinely helpful and useful - all of the other things you wanted flowed from that. 

To be sure, there were blow-ups. Some were near fatal to your business and movement. But then someone would send you a note, saying that you made a difference, and that was enough for you to keep going. The kindness of your WOL community was a source of strength. Never underestimate how important they are. 

A key turning point was around 2019 or 2020. Back then, you were like a little boy on a diving board, looking down, uncertain whether to make the leap or climb back down to earth. Some big companies were Working Out Loud, but you were cautious, always unsure or afraid of whether the little success you had would last. 

Then you leapt. You started to work with people in factories, hospitals, and schools, looking to help people who need it most. You expanded WOL to include practicing self-compassion, and enabling people to make the work they do more purposeful.

In the last fifteen years, you reached a million people. That’s a big number In ways large and small, you changed how they related to themselves, to others, and to they work they do. You can let yourself be proud of that.

If I have any advice for you, it’s this: Think ten times bigger. A hundred times bigger. Worry less about making mistakes, or about “who am I to attempt such a thing?” Dare to make a difference. Not for yourself or for your business, but for other people. The world could still use it, maybe now more than ever.

With love and respect.

Your Future Self

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